February 17th is a special day for two reasons. It’s Presidents Day, which means there won’t be any mail. It also happens to be the opening of the NFL’s franchise tagging period.
For some free agents, the two week franchise tag window is bad news. Players hit with the tag are essentially yanked off the free agent market, preventing them from scoring the long-term deals they covet (though some teams end up signing tagged players to long-term deals later in the same offseason, as happened with the Vikings and Chad Greenway a couple seasons ago).
Jimmy Graham, Greg Hardy and Brent Grimes are the three big names most observers expect will be hit with the tag this year. A handful of other players, including safeties T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd, cornerback Vontae Davis and defensive end Michael Bennett, are thought of as potential candidates for tagging.
One team that likely won’t be using the tag this year is the Vikings.
The Vikes do have several big name players hitting the free agent market, including long-time defensive line stalwarts Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, and multi-year starting cornerback Chris Cook, but none of those players are really viable tagging candidates, for a variety of reasons.
Everson Griffen is another key free agent for the Vikings, but again, he’s not a guy you would consider using the tag on. The tag number for defensive ends this year is $12.6 million, way too much to pay a guy who has yet to lock down a starting job in the NFL.
If there’s anything for us to keep an eye on tag-wise, it’s not the Vikings’ own players but free agents from other teams who might become Vikings targets if they hit the market.
One guy on a lot of wish lists is Alterraun Verner, and good news, the Titans are not expected to tag him. Defensive end Michael Johnson, a Mike Zimmer protege from his time in Cincinnati, is also expected to wriggle through without being tagged.
Eric Decker is another player many Viking fans have their eyes on, and like Verner and Johnson, he is expected not to be tagged.
Even if Grimes, Hardy, Byrd, Ward, Davis and Bennett all get tagged – and they may very well all get tagged – there will still be plenty of good defensive talent for the Vikings to pick from as they seek to retool their roster in the wake of last season’s collapse.
Spending free agent money is the only way to turn this thing around in a hurry. And the Vikings will have cap space to spend this year. If they’re smart, they’ll use most of it up on the defensive side of the ball.